OKOK: I feel like I've stumbled upon an undiscovered universe and to investigate it, I have been equipped with a pencil and a ruler.
Quantity works best as a working principal for me, to just dive into the stream. During intense periods I spend ten to twelve hours drawing every day and still fall asleep with unfinished lines in my head. While I'm working on one piece I get enough ideas for, like, ten more pieces, every piece takes it onward. I never wait for inspiration!
There is an entire world of lines and patterns that I have just begun to travel within and no time in the world to paint it all, so I need to keep at it! I sometimes feel a bit stressed out about that.
I meet up with Thomas Karl-johan Gunnarsson, alias OKOK, at the Central Station in Stockholm. To avoid the lunch crowds we decide to walk to a nearby hotel lobby where OKOK, inspired by Patti Smith’s stories about life at the Chelsea hotel in “Just Kids”, carried out an art project a few years ago, staying at the hotel for a month, drawing and creating in the lobby. We sit down, surrounded by his early art.
BSK: On the Patti Smith note, I think she writes in the book that she realised she couldn’t be an artist unless she thought she could shed new light on something, and that's when she knew what she had to do. Can you relate to that?
OKOK: I think so. We’re all made up from the same atoms, the rest is just energy. I think the meaning of art and perhaps life in a sense is to handle the energy that has been dealt to you, and pass it on through the world in a positive way. I think that’s what it's all about really.
In 2013, OKOK traveled the world with a full-blown career as a manager for music artists, and an impressive professional track record behind him including radio shows, marketing and a rap career of his own. That's when he realised he wanted to pursue his own creativity and not just stand behind others. He didn’t have a plan except to find the true answer to the question “when I wake
up in the morning, what do I want to do?” The answer: to draw.
OKOK: My background is in graffiti culture, so it wasn’t out of the blue. I’ve been painting all my life. And still, of all the art out there, tags are what speak to me the most. People who have been out there writing their names for 20 years... that's beautiful to me.
BSK: The way you write your artist name, OKOK, sort of resembles a tag. Does it have anything to do with that?
OKOK: I’ve never tagged as OKOK, not in the past and not at present, hehe... but the name is inspired by my graf' life I suppose, in the sense that I wanted an alias, and that I write OKOK as a pattern that can be repeated endlessly like a chain. It also has to do with the energy, OKOK has a positive vibe, it’s “thumbs up!”, it’s “let’s do this!” You know? And since I love the idea of repetition and copying, it amuses me that people say “OKOK” everyday, perhaps without even noticing it. For example, someone might ask me what I do, and I’ll say “I’m an artist, I make abstract art” and they’ll go “ah, ok ok…”
BSK: You art is nonfigurative, but I wrote down some things that came to mind for me when I looked through your portfolio – things like DNA spirals, spacecraft, galaxies, roads that cross, woodwork, string theory... it goes on like that with different sorts of classic, eternal patterns.
OKOK: There you have it. My work is abstract and nonfigurative, but I love it when people see things in it. The blackness in my pieces is often perceived as the universe, a great abyss. At the same time the lines are all mathematics. I think in a way what I draw already exists! I just channel it, I just portray it by taking the time to travel those spaces and make it into something we can look at. That doesn’t mean I come up with it or understand it. I mean, a human being has five senses. If you put your foot in front of an ant on the ground, the ant doesn’t perceive enough to understand that “this is a human foot, I must walk around it”. It’s just ignorant of humans to assume that we’re at the top of the ladder of perception – we’re the ant in relation to something else. I never sat down and decided to “create art”, it’s just what came out! This is as much an exploration for me as it is for the viewer.
BSK: Your perception of being an artist is inspiring, it's quite far from the old common myth of a taunted genius type – you keep referring to quantity, repetition, copying, not trying to understand it, positive energy...
OKOK: Yeah, I don’t come from the “art world”, I just happen to make art. It’s fun to annoy the people who have a fixed idea on what “art” needs to be. Some people have bugged me about using a ruler, like “Try doing that free hand” and I'm like “Why would I, ever? It would be such a waste of time!” I like the commerce, I like marketing. I would make my own OKOK crisp bread if I could, with a really nice package of course. I actually have a recurring fantasy about building robots that create art. My art. They would be programmed to draw in my exact style, just draw all day long. Not necessarily to create heaps and heaps of art, maybe every drawing would go straight into a paper shredder, and the shreds would be made into paper pulp and then paper again… like a complete circle of eternal art… Just need a budget!
After the interview, OKOK was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome in his right hand and won’t be able to continue making his line-based art for the foreseeable future. Time will tell what will happen after the operation and muscular rehab, but he’s currently working on new techniques.
OKOK: The first days after I was diagnosed were really dark. To have found my technique, my expression, my working morals, and then have this happen, it wore me down a bit psychologically. But after weeping for two days, I decided it was time to buckle down and search for new techniques. Now I’m drawing with my left hand, photographing and making plans to work with lego! The whole thing is forcing me to evolve.
In the small talk surrounding our interview OKOK told me he was excited to conquer new techniques like making installations or using colours. He just didn’t know when the time would come. He also mentioned two tattoos he had, one which read “Gilla läget” (which could perhaps translate to “Deal with it”, but with a positive ring to it). The other says “I think I know how to solve this problem”. That being said, OKOK is very likely to deal with it in an interesting way.